"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
Minerva, Chapter 19
The phone rang, rousing Ryan Miller from his fitful sleep. He scowled at the containers of egg foo yong and General Tso's chicken on his coffee table. The heavily marked copy of Kant's Perpetual Peace and Other Essays fell off the couch as Miller reached for the phone.
'Miller,' he said, still drowsy.
'Ryan, it's Jim,' the familiar voice said over the receiver. 'Turn on CNN. We're all fucked.'
Miller, now alert, grabbed the remote and flipped on his small television. It was already set to CNN.
The 'BREAKING NEWS' was a press conference in Minerva at the law offices of Feynman and Goldmeir. Edward Feynman was at the podium, and seated to his left was a harsh Lotosian.
'Lugar . . .' Miller whispered in utter incomprehension.
'That's right,' Feynman could be heard saying, as Miller turned up the volume. 'The retired general will have his new residence somewhere on Minervan territory, with the actual location being withheld for security reasons. Yes, as you say, there were many who disagreed with his politics, but I'm sure bygones will be bygones. In any event, we all know the women of Reliant will ensure his safety. Yes,' Feynman said, pointing to a reporter in the back.
'Are there any plans for elections, or some other mechanisms, to select replacements for the posts vacated by General Lugar and the other members of the Ramash party?'
'Well,' Feynman began with a smile, 'as I already explained, the general himself, and the other officials who will step down next week, have made no special provisions in this regard. They are simply relinquishing their control over the property that they are now returning to the rightful owners, the Lotosian people.'
'What the hell . . . ?' Miller muttered.
'What's the reaction from Washington?' someone yelled.
'I don't know, since nobody told them,' Feynman said, causing the room to burst into laughter. 'But in all seriousness, that's none of our business, nor is it the business of the general or his subordinates. In this agreement,' Feynman paused to hold up a thick stack of papers, 'it's all spelled out. As one of its final acts, the Lotosian government will return the balance of the generous American aid package negotiated last spring. Now, as far as the airfields and barracks, the United States is certainly welcome to open talks with the proper owners of the real estate on which they're presently located. As I said, that's not my business; it's between the Pentagon and the individual Lotosians.'
'Holy shit!' Miller said as he jumped up from the couch.
* * *
'But is it going to stop here, or can it spread?' President Greene asked. 'What's to stop every Third World dictator from selling his country and moving to the island?'
'That's an excellent question, Mr. President.' Miller paused to collect his thoughts. Six hours earlier, he hadn't thought the Lotosian maneuver possible, so he had to be careful in his predictions. 'My short answer is: I don't think that will be a problem, at least not for the next several years. We have to understand exactly why the deal works with Lugar: People are willing to pay for title deeds, issued in Minerva, for land and other property located on the Lotosian mainland.
'Now the legal problems'and this, I must admit, is what I for one never saw coming'were solved by Lugar's abdication. In a sense, he renounced his sovereign rights as the political ruler of Lotos, and thus the entire island reverted to unowned property under Minervan law. So at that point, a whole body of customary law kicks in, and specifies who the default owners of this land should be. The Feynman and Goldmeir firm printed up official titles and distributed them to the citizens of Lotos accordingly.
'So now the question is,' Miller continued, basically retracing the steps he had himself used in the moments after the bombshell had dropped, 'what would happen if Feynman tried this approach with, say, Great Britain?'
The room stared dumbly at Miller. He could tell that they had absolutely no idea.
'Well,' Miller resumed, 'they could certainly print up ownership deeds to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace; nothing will stop them from doing that. They can even mail these slips of paper to the residents of England, and tell them they're the rightful owners. But the real question is, will anybody buy these pieces of paper from the 'new' owners?
'And the answer to that, of course, is no. Because the Queen hasn't renounced her throne, and the Prime Minister hasn't resigned, and because the British police will still arrest anyone who tries to walk off with the Crown jewels, nobody is going to honor our hypothetical deeds.
'But the situation is different in the case of Lugar. He has officially renounced his position, and'no doubt with generous bribes supplied by Minervan firms'he has convinced his entire government to do the same. My guess is that Reliant'that's the dominant police agency in Minerva'is blanketing the island with its officers as we speak. For a nominal fee, they'll offer to defend the claims on the property titles issued by Minervan firms, and no doubt the clueless Lotosians will take them up on their offer. I'm sure the Lotosian police were caught just as flat-footed as we were by the announcement, and anyway, why fight it? The average Lotosian will be much much wealthier in the new regime.'
Greene had heard enough from the legal scholar. Although he admired the young man's frankness, he was still furious that this development had been so completely unexpected.
'General Riggs,' Greene said, turning his attention from Miller, 'what's happening with our troops?'
'Nothing, Mr. President.' Riggs tried to restrain a smirk. 'So far none of the newly liberated natives'and none of the female cops with nets'has challenged our installations. A few 'Yankee go home' demonstrations are underway, but that's standard fare for these people.'